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Good vibrations?

30 Jul 2009

A recent investigation report by the MAIB (“CELTIC PIONEER”) has highlighted an increasing number of accidents involving RIB’s and also suggested that a number of RIB and/or workboat owner/operators may not be complying with the recent “Vibration Regulations” (The Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Control of Vibration at Work) Regulations 2007).

The consequences of non-compliance are two-fold. In circumstances where an employee is injured, if the Regulations have not been complied with this could lead to both civil liability and criminal prosecutions against the owners AND any director with direct responsibility. Similarly, if a passenger is injured, whilst the regulations are not directly applicable non-compliance could be used to establish civil liability or more general health and safety breaches in a criminal context.

It should be noted that in serious cases breach of the regulations could lead to prosecution in the Crown Court where unlimited fines and/or imprisonment of up to years for individuals (i.e. directors) are available.

Previous accidents

The MAIB has highlighted that there have been over 20 (to its knowledge) accidents causing back injuries on RIBs in the last three years. Most were on thrill type rides and over half caused spinal fractures to the injured party. This is significant.

Given that the MAIB has now highlighted this as a matter of concern to the industry all vessel operators are duty bound to consider whether they are properly complying with the Regulations.

Scope of the Regulations

Strictly speaking the Regulations only apply to employers of crew onboard ships, including RIBs or indeed other work craft (e.g. catamarans). However in the event of an accident a vessel operator’s implementation/consideration of the Regulations may well be relevant to potential civil litigation and/or subsequent criminal investigations.

The employer (the definition of employer includes operator) is required to conduct a risk assessment to consider both hand-arm and whole body vibration. It is clear from tests conducted for the purposes of the Regulations that on a vessel such as a RIB the permitted tolerances for whole body vibration can be exceeded in much less than an hour.

The employer is required to conduct an assessment in the first instance to assess whether the tolerances will be exceeded. If they are, a number of control measures must be implemented:

• Introduce a “programme of controls” to eliminate or reduce worker’s exposure

• Take immediate action to reduce employee’s exposure to within the exposure limit value (ELV), if it is likely to be exceeded

• Provide information and training on health risks and controls to staff

• Consult the crew safety representative and/or crew about the risks and proposed control measures

• Keep a record of the risk assessment and control actions

• Review and update the risk assessment generally

• Health surveillance of workers is also recommended

As can be seen, the above requirements are onerous. Further guidance on their implementation can be found in MGN 353 (M+F).

Duty towards passengers

The Regulations do not specifically apply to passengers, although some of the requirements in the Regulations could be said to be analogous.

In particular, passengers should be warned of the inherent risks of vibration-related injuries and required to disclose any pre-existing back or neck problems in particular. It is not recommended that passengers with such medical histories should participate in thrill rides in particular.

Conclusion

Whilst it appears that the Vibration Regulations may not, as yet, be well known in the marine world there can now be no excuse for not complying with them. The fact that the MAIB has raised RIB incidents as a particular concern would be strong evidence in any legal case (civil or criminal) that vessel operators should now be fully aware of the regulations and compliant with them.